Sexual Brokenness, Part 2: How Can the Church Express the Truth About Sexuality in a Loving Way?


Same Sex Marriage John Stonestreet Sean McdowellNote: In the first part of this series, we answered the question, “How can Christians develop a consistent, defensible sexual ethic in the church?” This month, we feature an excerpt from Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, a new book by Summit instructors John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell. This excerpt discusses how to answer some of the tough questions that come up about the issue of same-sex marriage.

So, What Now? Guidance for Everyday Questions

It will be difficult to wrestle through the specific situations believers will face in the days to come, so it is essential that we begin to have conversations about them now. We shouldn’t wait until the heat of the moment. Pastors, leaders and parents, we need to start this conversation now and be prepared with a gracious, thoughtful response.

It matters also how we have the conversation. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Search the Scriptures. We can’t know God’s mind on an issue without it. Though the Bible does not always provide specific guidance, it offers the framework and principles that apply to every situation.
  2. Pray for guidance, and trust God to give it. “If any of you lacks wisdom,” James instructs, “Let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5-7).
  3. Don’t do it alone. “Without counsel plans fail,” Proverbs 15:22 says, “But with many advisers they succeed.” Communities of faith must be in this together, praying and supporting one another.
  4. Be charitable and gracious. First, we must be gracious and hesitant to pass judgment on our Christian brothers and sisters as they walk through these difficult situations. In the age of instant social media, it is far too easy to be harsh and self-righteous without knowing all the facts. Second, we must be gracious to those on the other side of the issue, even if they make our lives miserable. As Peter wrote to a group of Christians facing increasing cultural pressure: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
  5. Determine the lines that must not be crossed. Daniel is a great model of this discipline. In a foreign court, he “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:8). He knew ahead of time where he could not compromise, and he was able to stand strong when the pressure came.
  6. Look for creative alternatives. Patience and entrepreneurial thinking will often reveal options that at first we cannot see. For example, Daniel and his friends seemingly had only two choices: (1) violate their convictions by imbibing the king’s food and drink, or (2) die. There was another alternative, however. Appealing to the head of the court, they suggested a 10-day test period in which they would eat only vegetables and trust the Lord for the results. God made them 10 times better than their peers in the court (see Daniel 1:8-20). In many cases, we may be able to find a way to keep a potential conflict from escalating, while still allowing us to follow our conscience.
  7. Avoid the victim complex. It really doesn’t help our cause if we are perceived as whiners. When it comes to our views on marriage, we will face double standards, misrepresentations and scorn. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. Plus, Jesus promised that His followers would be hated in the world (see John 17:14).

With that framework in mind, let’s consider some potential scenarios.

What if a gay friend, co-worker or family member announces that they are getting married to their partner?

Everyone we meet is made in the image of God. We ought never reduce anyone to his or her sexual orientation or decision to pursue marriage. We cannot endorse a same-sex marriage, but we can treat people with dignity.

In the case of an acquaintance, distant family member or co-worker, we think it is possible to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15) without rejoicing in what makes them rejoice. In other words, we can be happy someone is happy without being happy about why they are happy. Responding to someone’s proud announcement of his or her same-sex wedding plans with condemnation will most likely end the relationship. While saying something like, “I think that’s great!” would be dishonest, we could respond by saying, “Wow! That’s a huge decision. Tell me more about this person and how you met. What are you looking forward to most in marriage?” In asking these questions, we can deepen the relationship.

What if I’m invited to a same-sex wedding ceremony?

We believe wedding ceremonies are sacred and that attendance implies a complicit blessing of the union itself. At a wedding, a covenant, even when not acknowledged, is being made between two people, the community and God. Therefore, we could not attend a same-sex wedding in good conscience (would we really want to “speak now or forever hold our peace” on this?).

On the other hand, a protest is rarely necessary or helpful. The extent to which Christians should verbally express disagreement will depend on how close we are to those who invite us. It may be appropriate to sit down and calmly explain our disagreement in love, but two things should already be in place. First, there should be a strong relationship. Second, as much as is possible, people should already know where we stand. It’s much easier to say, “You know, I think you already know my convictions on gay relationships, so it’s probably not a surprise that I cannot come to your ceremony. May we talk about this further?”

What if a gay friend, co-worker or family member asks me to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony?

We couldn’t participate in, or officiate, a same-sex wedding ceremony for the reasons given above. However, this could be a very difficult decision for a brother asked to be the best man, or a father asked to walk his daughter down the aisle. Even in very personal cases like these, we would have to decline.

It’s likely that if someone asks you to participate in their wedding, you have a close relationship with them. As we said earlier, it’s very helpful to get ahead of the situation if possible. If they know where we stand on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, yet continue to enjoy a friendship, it may make the difficult conversation easier.

What if a same-sex couple shows up at my church and/or wants to send their children to Sunday school?

How would you respond if a cohabiting couple showed up at church and brought their children to Sunday school? The answer should be no different (and, hopefully, the answer is, “we would welcome them”). We can welcome people into the Church without compromising biblical standards.

When it comes to membership, leadership and receiving communion (or other ordinances considered sacred by the Church), requirements should be clearly stated in writing. Christian organizations and non-profit organizations should include convictions about human sexuality and marriage in their Statement of Faith and employment policies.

“But we don’t want our children to see such things in church!” you may reply. Well, they will see it in culture. Why not use the Church to help Christians understand the gay lifestyle properly? This means that pastors and leaders must find ways to help parents communicate to their children age-appropriate information as it becomes necessary.

What if a Christian friend begins to embrace pro-gay theology?

Several books are influencing Christians to reconsider the historic Christian stance on same-sex marriage, including Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate by Justin Lee; God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-sex Relationships by Matthew Vines and A Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson, a pastor in the Vineyard Church movement. Each endorses only committed homosexual relationships. While we disagree with their conclusions, we recognize they are provocative, articulate and persuasive to many people.

Churches, pastors and parents need to know the arguments found in these works and how to respond. If someone is questioning, offer to read with them books on both sides of the issue. Many younger evangelicals wrongly assume that because they were raised hearing that homosexuality was wrong, they know the full truth about marriage and why it does not include same-sex relationships. In our experience, that simply is not true. Terrific resources that support natural marriage include What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense by Robert George, Ryan Anderson and Sherif Girgis; Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill; and, of course, this book!

What if my son or daughter thinks gays should be allowed to marry?

When I (Sean) was a teenager, I announced to my father, who has spent his life proclaiming and defending the Christian faith, than I wasn’t sure I believed in Christianity anymore. He lovingly said that he respected my questions and offered to help me search any way he could. He encouraged me to hold on to my faith unless I was persuaded it was not true, and he assured me that he and my mom loved me regardless of the outcome.

That’s a great way to handle any teenage questions about the faith. It’s not a sin to question, and mentors should guide the questioning process. Be open, ask questions, give space, point to the best resources, and walk through the questions with the questioner. Above all, maintain the relationship.

What if I hear a fellow Christian “gay-bashing”?

In 1996, a white supremacist with an SS tattoo and a confederate flag shirt became separated from other Ku Klux Klan members at a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A group protesting the rally chased him, and when he fell, began to beat him. Instinctively, 18-year-old Keshia Thomas threw herself on the man to protect him. Keshia is an African-American.

Our faith requires us to defend anyone who is mistreated, even if we disagree with them. To do so, we may need to make the difficult decision to call out inappropriate words and actions from those on “our side.”

What if I’m asked what I believe about same-sex marriage?

Whenever we talk about this issue, we risk being called “intolerant” or “hateful.” Greg Koukl suggests that we can get ahead of the accusations by asking the following question before offering our opinion:

You know, this is actually a very personal question you’re asking, and I’d be glad to answer. But before I do, I want to know if you consider yourself a tolerant or an intolerant person. Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse points of view, or do you condemn others for convictions that differ from yours?

Asking this upfront makes it difficult for someone to dismiss our views as intolerant or judgmental without looking guilty of the same crimes. It’s amazing how framing the discussion as one of mutual respect and true tolerance can change the dynamic of the entire interaction. We have both found that most people are willing to talk about this issue if they feel respected, understood and valued. So before you dive in and give your thoughts on this sensitive subject, make sure the person is truly tolerant and willing to respect people with different views than their own. And, of course, show the same respect in turn.

These, obviously, are not the only scenarios we will face. As a Church and as a culture, we are headed into uncharted waters. But we need not despair. Yes, same-sex marriage is here. It will do us no good to run from culture, pretend this is not true or cry foul. The real question is, how will we respond? … We will only positively influence lives and culture if each of us takes responsibility for the opportunities God has given us.

And let’s remember that we need each other. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

We are at a unique point in history when we can learn from the past and move forward, trusting God with confidence. There is a broken and hurting world that desperately needs the truth, the love and the hope of Jesus. Let’s go!

From Same-Sex Marriage © 2014 by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet. Published by Regal Books. Used by permission. All rights reserved.